In an earlier post, we explored the idea of writing your own edition using archival materials here at Burns. This assignment, part of the Introduction to Advanced Research Methods class’s work, is one variation of three that the students in this class choose in order to complete their final paper. This week, let’s think about writing a literary biography of a little-known journalist named Eleanor Early. After examining the finding aid for this collection, you’ve found that you’re interested in Early’s career as a travel writer. You noticed the large number of manuscripts and photographs available in this collection and were curious to learn more about the adventures of this intrepid journalist and author.
A literary biography or literary history is actually quite similar to writing your own edition. But you’ll choose a larger number of documents (i.e. more than 8 – 10) and write a paper that talks about what’s in them and tells the whole story. If the story you want to tell is contained in a very large number of documents (too many to edit), then a literary biography is the right project for you because you can tell the story by quoting from the documents rather than analyzing each document separately. Again, you’ll be tracking down references to people, places, events, etc., and using secondary sources (and maybe some additional primary sources) to fill in the gaps.
First you start out by learning a little more about Early from the finding aid. Eleanor Early was born April 27, 1895 in Newton, Massachusetts. She grew up and attended school in Wellesley and attended Miss Wheelock’s School (later Wheelock College) in Boston, where she was in a program for Kindergarten teachers, and graduated in 1917. But she preferred to be a reporter, and started working for Boston newspapers, first as a cub reporter who could not type, and then a feature writer. In the mid and late 1920s, she was a freelance writer for the International News Service. Also at this time, she tried her hand at writing fiction, serialized in newspapers, and later published as books. While covering the Boston Braves spring training in Saint Petersburg, Florida, she had so many questions about Boston that she decided to write a book on it, leading to her first travel book, And This is Boston! (1930). It was followed by several more, the last being Washington Holiday (1955). She also lived and wrote in Washington, D.C. and for many years lived in New York City, with an apartment overlooking Central Park. She lived in Dominica and other islands of the West Indies during the period in the 1930’s when she wrote Ports of the Sun (1937) and Lands of Delight (1939).
Using the photographs, manuscripts and correspondence in the Eleanor Early Papers, your final paper will help you understand how valuable archival research is to your development as a scholar. From analyzing documents carefully to piecing them together to form a cohesive narrative, you’ll begin to feel a bit like a detective solving a mystery. If you are interested in the Eleanor Early Papers, then look at the finding aid or contact the Burns Library Reading Room at 617-552-4861 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Justine Sundaram, Reference Librarian/Bibliographer, John J. Burns Library